Monday, April 06, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Programs: a STORE offering hope and opportunity

Are you involved with a non profit organization? Are you a volunteer, donor, board member or student with a tutor/mentor program in Chicago, or another city? Have you ever thought of the non profit you work with as a "store" where the shelves are full of products and services that benefit the community served by this organization?

Is the tutor/mentor program in your neighborhood a shopping mall of good things for kids? What can people who don't live in these neighborhoods do to help great tutor/mentor stores reach kids in inner city markets?

Have you thought of yourself, or your donors as customers? This PDF illustrates my vision of the Tutor/Mentor STORE. It's a place in a high poverty neighborhood where the customers are the kids and volunteers who connect each week through the year.

If volunteers and students are customers, what are the products and services they find at the store? For the youth, it's an adult who gives some special attention to them. It's the books, technology, arts and other experiences that they can take part in. It's the help with homework or study habits.

Last Saturday we shared some of the products and services of the Cabrini Connections store, with volunteers and potential donors. We hosted an Arts and Video Festival, showing and selling art created by students and volunteers, such as the mural these kids are standing in front of. We also presented a new Cabrini Connections video documentary, created by other teens and volunteers.

In our vision of a tutor/mentor program, the volunteers, and the donors are customers. They are also owners. We need to show them what we do, how they can help us. We need them to share the responsibilities of making sure the store is stocked with learning experiences and mentoring activities that will motivate kids to participate each week. We need them to make sure we have well trained staff, who want to work in the non profit environment, and who will make this a career.

We share information about what the Cabrini Connections store does on the web site and on blogs. Our aim is that as volunteers and donors read reports about poverty and poor schools, or respond to "calls for involvement" by public leaders like President Obama, they will learn to SHOP, like customers do in most communities, to choose what tutor/mentor program they want to support with their time, talent and dollars.

What makes Cabrini Connections unique is that while we operate one tutor/mentor "store" in one part of Chicago, we lead the Tutor/Mentor Connection, and maintain an on-line resource library and Program Locator database, that enables volunteers and donors and parents to shop all neighborhoods of Chicago to choose what program they will support, based on how that program tells its story on its web site or blog.

We also work as a trade association, helping every program get the ideas and resources they need to operate an effective tutor/mentor "store" in their own neighborhood of Chicago, and in other cities. In May and November we host a conference in Chicago. On Ning we host an on-line forum. We use this blog, and our maps, the way newspapers use special interest columns, to provide daily focus to the need for great tutor/mentor programs to be operating in every high poverty neighborhood.

Are you interested in being a customer, or an owner? Look in the mirror. If you want to help kids living in inner city poverty escape the drugs, gangs and violence, you need to help them move through school and into jobs. While schools are one type of store, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, operating in the non-school hours, are another kind of store. They are needed in many places throughout the Chicago region. You can use your time, talent and dollars to help one, or many, of these organizations become the greatest places in the city for kids and volunteers to connect, and transform the life journey for each other.

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